Congrats! We have survived the first half plus of the MLS Season in 5th place in the West after this bizarre first two/thirds of the season. If you had told me, we would be in 5th back in February with the string of injuries we have dealt with, I doubt I would have believed you. Then again, a bunch of our readers would have expected us to be on top of the West after last season.
So now we have Leagues Cup for the next month, and I’m here to honestly answer your questions unlike Apple TV:
- What is Leagues Cup?
Leagues Cup is a new 47 team tournament involving all 29 MLS teams and all 18 Liga MX teams. The tournament starts off with 15 groups of 3 teams each playing 2 matches. The top 2 teams from each group will advance along with LAFC and Pachuca (MLS Cup winners and Liga MX cumulative champs) to a Round of 32, where there will be a single elimination knockout tournament to crown a champion.
2. Why should I care?
Well first and foremost, Austin FC is playing for a trophy, and we always want them to win a trophy. Secondly, the top three teams qualify for the new CONCACAF Champions Cup (CCC) (formerly known as CONCACAF Champions League-CCL), and it would be fun/important to get revenge for this year’s awful performance. Third, beating some Liga MX teams would help boost the prominence of Austin FC. We got a relatively straightforward group of 2 weaker Liga MX teams in Juarez and Mazatlan, both at home. The matches are included for season ticket holders, so it should be a great atmosphere with a good number of formal and casual visiting fans for the weekend matches. Also, tickets for next Tuesday’s match between Juarez and Mazatlan may be one of the cheapest tickets at Q2 ever (get in price is around $25 in the lower deck!).
Fourth, if we win our group and Inter Miami wins their group and each team wins their Round of 32 match, we would host Messi and Inter Miami at Q2 between August 6 and 8th (most likely Sunday August 6th) in the Round of 16. Having Messi at Q2 would likely be the biggest match in club history in a knockout match, as much as we may not like to admit it.
3. Why should you not care?
Have you seen how many guys we have hurt? Why rush Driussi back? The odds are we aren’t going to finish top 3 in this tournament, and our goal this year is to go as far in the playoffs as possible.
If we finish third in the group, we get 3 weeks off to recharge before a hectic MLS stretch run. If we finish 2nd in our group, we get to play at LAFC after a 2.5 week break for them. That match would have loss written all over it. Pretty much if we don’t win our group, this tournament run is likely going to be short. And frankly, considering the health of the side, that’s not the worst thing.
4. So what’s the real reason for Leagues Cup?
Well, Liga MX and MLS both want to make money. Liga MX knows they have a ton of fans in the US and would rather play meaningful matches aside from CCC, which are guaranteed each year (many of the friendlies have outlived their usefulness). These games are all being held in the US to make money. We would some away days in Mexico, especially with Juarez being a relatively easy trip and Mazatlan being a beachside city (yes, we know there are major security concerns in both cities).
They also have no desire to play lower division Mexican teams and have effectively used Leagues Cup as a way to eliminate the Copa MX, Mexico’s equivalent of the US Open Cup/FA Cup. I suspect that MLS wants to do the same with the US Open Cup, which is a bloody shame. We agree that there are too many fixtures on the current MLS calendar, but eliminating the Leagues Cup would be a way to free up the calendar. If we wanted more fixtures against Mexican teams, they can eliminate one of their playoffs and we could have a tournament a larger Champion of Champions tournament for a maximum of 16 teams with a maximum of 4 matches rather than this format, which would likely require 7 matches to win it all.
5. What funny rules does Leagues Cup have?
First off, they have adopted the MLS Next Pro shootout rule. As a result at the end of any draw, there will be a shootout for an extra point. The third place game will be important as the winner gets a CCC spot for next year. They finally published the rules a week before the tournament started, which is on brand for MLS/CONCACAF. Teams are allowed to have up to 12 subs on their matchday roster, and each team must have 2 goalie subs. Additionally rosters may be available 75 minutes before a match rather than the normal 60 minutes before a match.
Group tiebreakers between two teams can be decided on head to head, including PK results. If we end up with a 3-3-3 group, it goes goal difference, goals scored, goals conceded, fair play results, and then a random draw.
There is no extra time at any point in the tournament. If a match is tied at the end of 90 minutes, it goes straight to PKs.
The best rule, however, is below.
Yellow cards are cumulative from the Group Stage up to the Round of 16. The player who is
sanctioned three (3) times between the Group Stage and up to the Round of 16 will be
suspended for one (1) match. If the player obtained his third yellow card in the Round of 16
game, he would serve his sanction in the Quarterfinal Round. Suspensions must be served next year in the tournament if the team is eliminated in the game where the suspension is earned.
Never seen a rule where a suspension can be served a year later (curious if the rule applies if a player is on another club in next year’s competition), but this rule sounds very MLS.
For the most part, the refs will be from the rest of CONCACAF that is not the US or Mexico. I don’t think I am emotionally prepared for Oshane Nation to be officiating another Austin FC match.
While Tijuana has turf, teams with turfs fields are required to give their opponents 120 minutes to practice the day before a match rather than the standard 80.
6. Will Austin play our top players? Will we see a bunch of triple digit Mexican players?
Predicting this tournament is impossible. While we have some resources here at the False Nine, we have no clue which of the 47 teams are going to take this tournament seriously. A bunch of teams here are just getting players back from the Gold Cup and there are a lot of new signings in both leagues.
Each team has a 30 man eligible roster. I assume Mexican teams will bring their 23 man senior roster and a few triple digit players. It would be great if MLS moves up from 20 to 23 senior roster spots before the 2024 Leagues Cup.
7. What would an Austin title run look like?
This section is effectively fan fiction, but sure, why not? If we win the group, we are the top seed in the South and would host the second place finisher in South 4, which consists of Frisco, Charlotte, and Nexaca. A third home game with Frisco would sell the most tickets (remember knock out tickets are not included with season tickets and are treated like playoff games but priced very fairly for once), but it would be fun to host Charlotte or Nexaca for the first time at McKalla.
If we win the Round of 32, we would host the winner of South 2 or South 3. Those 6 options include Inter Miami (Messi’s first road match in MLS being at McKalla would be epic), Atlanta (would be fun), Cruz Azul (hopefully they choke in their normal fashion), Houston (boo, but we get to see our friend Steve Clark), Orlando (return of Felipe), or Santos Laguna (no, the terrible guy doesn’t play for them anymore). A quarterfinal would also be at home against any of the aforementioned teams or Pachuca, which would be a difficult opponent.
If we make it to a semifinal, we would go play at home, unless it’s against Philly or Montreal where it would be on the road on Tuesday August 15th. A final would be against the West or Central and would be at home unless our opponent is LAFC. I think the final is supposed to be a doubleheader in one venue with the third place game before, but I am honestly not sure. You would think they would choose a final venue before the tournament, but MLS/Liga MX are leaving it up to chance for now.
If we finish second and beat LAFC, we would be guaranteed to be at home for every match until the finals and could only play at Philly or Montreal. The opponent pool there would involve the West, which includes the following teams:
Round of 16 (and Quarterfinals for the bottom 3):
Real Salt Lake (that would be tough with their new signings and they already won here without them)
Monterrey (Rayados would be wild at home)
Sounders (no teenagers allowed)
LA Galaxy (they are starting to play better)
Leon (We should have lost to you in CCL)
Vancouver Whitecaps (I guess we need revenge)
San Jose (Chaos!)
Portland (Bruin Time!)
While we at the False Nine may be lukewarm towards the tournament, having a bunch of summer matches at McKalla is never a bad thing. Now we just have to wait and see which Austin FC shows up.